Being a Black digital marketer in 2021

Last summer’s global wave of protests against racial inequality spurred many companies to re-examine whether they are properly addressing diversity and inclusion — both within their organizations and beyond their four walls. The digital marketing industry is looking in the mirror, participating in the national discussion about equity and inclusion, including debates about whether Black professionals can find career growth opportunities in their industry.

Inclusion is a necessary step in addressing racial equity, and makes for a better, more productive work environment. Companies with a more diverse workforce repeatedly see improvements in employee engagement, according to a study of inclusiveness by consulting firm Deloitte. Diverse teams also help businesses solve problems faster because they bring together a greater variety of personal perspectives and experiences, Harvard Business Review found in a study.

Yet, there are very few Black people working in digital marketing. In fact, according to the “Diversity Report for the Advertising/Marketing Industry,” released last year by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), Black people comprise only 7 percent of the employees working in ANA member companies’ marketing departments.

Ty Heath, director of market engagement at The B2B Institute at LinkedIn explained that saying there is a “shortage” of Black people in digital marketing is the incorrect framing of the issue.

“Since there are so many wonderful people of color who are talented creators in marketing and other fields, saying there is a shortage of Black talent out there really does a disservice,” she said. “Instead, companies need to go out and find Black talent. They need to change the way they naturally recruit and intentionally invest in Black people and people of color.”

The only one in the room

Many Black digital marketers talk regularly about “being the only Black person in the room” and how uncomfortable that can feel.

“Having worked in various offices in my decades-long career, I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t either the only Black person in the office or one of a very small handful,” said Kelly Coleman, executive director of e-commerce at Tarte Cosmetics, where she builds and maintains innovative and effective customer experiences across all of Tarte’s digital properties.

But, when Coleman walks into a room and feels people may be looking at her warily, “I summon an inner strength that was built from a really strong family support system, and it just fuels me to work to be 10 times better and prove them wrong.”

Adrian Chang, senior director of web strategy and digital marketing at software development firm Informatica has also experienced unconscious bias in the workplace. Unconscious bias refers to social stereotypes that individuals form from their backgrounds, personal interactions, societal stereotypes, and cultural context about certain groups of people without conscious awareness.

“I’ve found that when I walk into a room people are already making judgements about me and about how I may react to things,” said Chang. “I’m used to it at this point. I just make sure I am prepared for it.”

Black employees may feel they carry the onus of being more exceptional to overcome prejudice, he said.

“I always felt little bit of that burden myself,” said Wil Reynolds, the Black founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based a digital marketing agency Seer Interactive,. “If I am one of the first Black people to get my foot in the door of a company, and I don’t crush it, I am giving them ammo to not hire Black people again.”

On the flip side, however, Reynolds said, “If I crush it, people try to find another guy like me.”

The digital marketing community has a lot of work to do to tip the scales in the direction of a more diverse workforce.

“The journey starts with an internal conversation about the uncomfortable topics companies often avoid,” said LinkedIn’s Heath. “Consider bringing in outside voices to support your team’s development and start incorporating your values into the fabric of the brand and your actions.”

While Heath admitted that these conversations are often uncomfortable, imperfect, and messy, they are a good thing.

“There is no transformation without conversation — conversation with our customers, colleagues, and the examination of our own thoughts and biases,” she said.

Hire Black talent

One way to get more Black people into the digital marketing space is to hire more Black digital marketers. While there may not be a lot of black digital marketers working at companies today, there is no lack of Black talent out there.

To do this, companies should ensure they have a diverse candidate pool for each role being filled, and make sure that diverse candidates are interviewed for all open roles. To find Black talent, companies can search for candidates in Hire Black Marketers, a directory of Black marketers looking for new roles, speaking and consulting opportunities. The goal of the list is to diversify the marketing industry by increasing the number of black marketers employed by businesses and ad agencies.

Companies can also post jobs on the following sites:

Another great way to find Black marketing talent is by joining Black-focused networking groups and associations. One such networking group is TransformHER, a LinkedIn group for professional women of color in technology. It is designed for members to build stronger relationships and leverage resources to advance.

LinkedIn’s Heath, who heads up TransformHER, said the group is also open to allies, or members of the community who are not Black but take proactive action to support Black marketers and technologists.

“Allies help create the pipeline,” Heath said. “Once allies join in and become part of our community, they get to know our members, which leads to people being top of mind when hiring decisions are being made.”

Companies can also recruit from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which are colleges with strong roots in black community. These colleges are also extending and amplifying their digital marketing course offerings thanks to the Grow with Google HBCU Career Readiness Program. Launched last year, the program provides funding, digital skills workshops and custom jobseeker content to help students and alumni gain the tools and training needed to secure a job with digital skills and excel in the workplace.

Adobe, in collaboration with leaders of its Black Employee Network (BEN) and a team of Black employees, is also focusing on increasing its investment in developing a robust talent pipeline. Hiring and recruiting more Black employees is one of five key focus areas Adobe has identified for long-term impact.

In fact, Comparably, which publishes lists of the top companies to work for based on company culture and workplace benefits, named Adobe the “Best Company for Diversity in 2020,” as well as “Best Company Culture 2020,” “Best CEOs for Diversity 2020,” and “Best Company for Diversity 2019.”

Create a culture for Black talent to thrive

Once Black people are hired, it is important for companies to create cultures where they can succeed and grow.

“Companies shouldn’t just hire Black talent for the sake of hiring Black talent,” Heath said. “There has to be a path forward. In many companies, while there may be people of color hired at lower levels, when you move up the ladder the number of people of color begins to taper off.”

Indeed, according to the ANA’s aforementioned Diversity Report for the Advertising/Marketing Industry, ethnic diversity remains poor from the senior level on down, especially for Blacks. Among the 40 ANA board of directors and other member companies at the senior level, Blacks comprise just 5 percent of the senior level, while approximately 13 percent of the total population.

LinkedIn is working to address the representation gap among its own workforce, Heath said.

“We’ve introduced a new commitment to double the number of Black and Latino leaders, managers, and senior individual contributors on our U.S. team over the next five years,” she said. “By focusing on increasing and maintaining diversity in senior positions and the leadership pipeline, we’re centering attention on roles with the most responsibility and decision-making authority, while also enhancing development pathways for underrepresented talent at all levels.”

“People need to put their money where their mouths are,” Tarte Cosmetics’ Coleman said. “Hire Black people and put them in leadership positions. Focus on it.”

Informatica’s Chang said that the companies that encourage developing Black leaders end up being better companies in the long run.

“Companies that have corporate cultures that encourage diversity — and all types of diversity, including diversity of thought — are the ones that will succeed,” he said.

Amplify Black talent

Another way to get more Black digital marketers in the industry it to amplify current Black employees. After all, representation is key: When Black people who are looking for jobs in digital marketing see people who look like them, working successfully in digital marketing jobs, it can be exciting and encouraging.

Bozoma Saint John, the CMO of Netflix, and Travis McPhail, the platform engineering lead for Google Maps, are two examples of Black technology and marketing thought leaders who have become icons for the next generation of digital marketers. They regularly speak at virtual and live events, post on social media channels and are featured in industry publications.

“Representation is really important,“ said Coleman. “Young people need to see that people who look like them are at these organizations and have a path forward.” Coleman said she has also gone back to her alma mater, Howard University, several times to speak to students about her career, specifically for this reason.

Black digital marketers can raise their professional profiles by posting information about themselves on the following websites:

While there is more work to be done to make the digital marketing community increasingly diverse and representative of our larger community, the encouraging news is there are many resources available today for companies to build more diverse teams. And having a more diverse teams can lead to faster problem solving, increased profits, better employee engagement and a better company reputation.